Saturday, 19 March 2011

We Attempt TSR's Dragon Quest

Big Al found a copy of this on one of this periodic trawls through the local charity shops. When he earlier told me the title of what he'd found I was actually thinking of SPI's rarity Dragonquest, ie. this;

But apparently not. Anyway, Dragon Quest (Two Word Title version) got dragged out last night for a game of the introductory scenario and, well, hmmm is about the size of it.

First impressions are that this is a Lorraine Williams-era TSR panic project brought about by the sale figures of MB/Evil Empire's Heroquest. Let's compare the backs of the boxes to see exactly what I'm talking about.

One of the games

The other one of the games

There are, I think we'll agree certain stylistic similarities although it appears that the bogbrush haircut of the late 80s seems to have vanished by 1992 in favour of the proto-curtains/centre parting shoegazer thing.

Pretty much 99% of the artwork is recycled from other late 80s/early 90s TSR projects and I'm sure there's some geeky trivia game enjoyment to be had from trying to spot them all. With the plastic figures of Heroquest being replaced by flimsy cardboard fold up things and the mass of artwork from other games it's clear that this was chucked together very quickly and little operating budget. Even the (very nice) white metal figures are straight out of the Ral Partha catalogue with a nice piece of lampshading of the fact on the cover of the box.

To the gameplay itself. One player is DM and has a scenario booklet. All games take place upon the plain castle map, scenarios state where doors are to be placed when the players enter rooms, therefore turning the map in a different layout for each game. So three of us sit down to play with DaveO doing the DM duty.

And then I get passed a PC card that is essentially a full Cyclopedia-era D&D character. And I mean full, it has the complete collection of STR, INT, WIS, DEX, CON and CHA with a THAC0 system (here called "Fighting Ability") and Prime Attribute modifiers and AC's listed with and without shield use and wait a minute what is going on here?

It's as if Heroquest sat you down with all the plastic toys and boardgame trappings and presented you with the full and unexpurgated rules of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. I'll give you just one example that sums up this weird juxtaposition. Initiative is by individual, with DEX attribute modifiers. That's right, the clumsy system you never use in the real game is here in the juvenile boardgame version.



Have you ever heard of the Alfa-Romeo Arna? Probably not. This was a car that Alfa-Romeo and Nissan worked together on in the early 1980s. Obviously this was a match made in heaven - Nissan's Japanese quality and Alfa's design flair and ability to make driver's cars thus compensating for each other's flaws. What a match! So obviously you'd let Alfa design it and Nissan build it.

It's a no-brainer isn't it?

You'd have to be really bloody thick to let early 80s Nissan design it and early 80s Alfa build it? Nobody would be that stupid surely?

This is why you've never of the Alfa-Romeo Arna.

Dragon Quest is like that - it takes the worst parts of two games and rams them together. The Heroquest clone format would be great (even with the bargain bucket components and reused artwork) with a simple set of game mechanics. Basic D&D is great with it's freewheeling RPG format. But Dragon Quest just messes it up by marrying rules which are far too complex in this situation to poorer quality "bits" than Heroquest.

I enjoyed playing A Game With Mates but in all honesty this is a "neither" game, it's not simple even to benefit from the whole Heroquest thing and not flexible enough to justify it's Cyclopedia mechanics. As I stated after the game if I'm going to be using a full D&D ruleset I'd rather have the flexibility and improv abilities of a full RPG, if a boardgame I'd rather it was at a level of Heroquest, Dungeon! (remember that one TSR?), The Sorcerers' Cave or Castle Schadenfraude Dungeonquest.

A game designed by committee and spreadsheets I think.


  1. I can only assume that they thought the inclusion of D&D rules would lead to a transition into D&D proper. Fair enough, except Heroquest had nothing, mechanically, to do with anything else GW were putting out, and yet that was enough to get me into the gaming habit, and eventually -- irony alert -- to D&D.

    All they had to do was spruce up Dungeon! and release it in a deluxe Talisman type format. Fools.

  2. Well, they did do Dragon Strike which on paper is much closer to Hero Quest. All plastic minis, simple rule system (that does allow for more than just FIGHIN MONSTERS), ect.

    Its more infamous for its laughable training VHS tape than the game itself, but the game looks pretty nice all things considered.

    Got my copy for 5 bucks sans VHS tape at a Votech school gaming con.

  3. I think they were experimenting with introducing D&D without using the D&D name, since it has a stigma attached in some circles. It wasn't supposed to be a continuation of DQ, it just borrowed the name since TSR owned it.

  4. And for what it's worth, they did eventually rip off HeroQuest with that D&D boardgame which came out in 2003 and which was inexplicably only available in Europe.

  5. Oh balls I didn't know that was a HeroQuest ripoff I assumed it was a crippleware version of 3.0 or 3.5 much like the current red box crippleware set for 4E. It was in Waterstones reduced to about £7 for months and months as well.

    I'd buy Dungeon! with modern production methods (even with recycled 4E dungeonpunk art) in a heartbeat.